Should men work with children?: We asked for your views, following the nursery abuse case

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE IDEA of preventing men from working with children because they pose more of a threat to them than women is a very interesting one. Since male drivers cause more road accidents, deaths and injuries than female ones, I propose that we immediately ban all men from driving in the interest of child (and adult) safety.

Jean Bloom

East Grinstead

I WORKED as a therapist with women who had been sexually abused as children. I would suggest that all men who seek careers in nursery education should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. It is a most unusual career for a young man to choose, and the motivation of each male applicant should be thoroughly investigated and his personal, medical and psychiatric history researched in depth. I am much more interested in the safety and well-being of children under five than I am in promoting equal opportunities for men in the field of nursery education.

Margaret Taylor

Bromley, Kent

DESPITE recent terrifying cases, we must not allow a climate of fear to build. I was, if anything, relieved when my young son's nursery school appointed some male staff - if only to break any stereotyping there may be in childrens' minds that it's only a woman's role to care and nurture, or to fetch and carry.

Further, if every unattended man is a suspect, will I be discouraged from letting my son invite his playmates to our house if I'm the only adult there?

More men, not fewer: with strict adherence to guidelines, of course.

Dave Haslam

Manchester

THE DATA which is available on sexual abuse by welfare professionals clearly indicates that the question raised by Angela Neustatter has to be taken very seriously indeed.

Most recent data comes from the United States. One of the world's most respected researchers, David Finkelhor, reports in his book Nursery Crimes that 60 per cent of the perpetrators of sexual abuse in day care were men, even though males represented only 1-10 per cent of the staff there. The researchers expressed surprise that 'men, who constitute a small proportion of day-care workers, should commit such a disproportionate amount of abuse'. Similar findings have been produced in virtually all fields of child welfare.

Of course, many male welfare carers do not abuse. The problem is that it seems from the evidence that the risk of male carers abusing may be much greater than that for females, and we do not seem to be able to distinguish those who will abuse from those who will not. Given, then, that men appear to account for a massive proportion of sexual abuse in welfare settings, why is so little consideration given to the option of restricting their role?

At the end of the day we are talking about balancing 'rights' against one another. In the light of the evidence, which 'right' is more important: that of men to work in the professions of their choice; or that of children not to be sexually abused?

Keith Pringle

Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Studies, University of Sunderland

I AM a female secondary school teacher and my partner is a male infant school teacher. I feel it is very important that men should work with young children: children need to see men in caring roles.

Due to the suspicion with which male teachers are viewed, my partner is very wary of physical contact with his pupils. The young children he works with need help to change for PE, for example, and his policy is to ask the child's permission before he undoes their buttons or ties up their shoelaces. He also avoids physical shows of comfort when dealing with distressed children. I feel it is a terrible shame that male teachers have to curb their natural instinct to, for example, cuddle an unhappy child.

I would be outraged if my partner was told he could no longer teach infants simply because of his gender.

Abbie Lewis

Bognor Regis

SHOULD women work with children? They abuse children too. Merely to pose the question makes the proposition as absurd as the line of argument in your article.

The way to deal with child abuse in schools and institutions is through much more careful screening of applicants of both sexes and much more responsible supervision of those in child care.

Blanket condemnation of men is damaging. It increases the general hysteria about this subject, and this results in many innocent men being looked at askance, or being accused openly or by insinuation of sexual abuse of their children, when they have shown them normal care and affection.

I should know - it has happened to me and doubtless to many, many others.

T F Hibbett

London NW2

AS a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and as a counsellor to fellow survivors, I have experienced the effects of abuse by male child- care workers.

I also believe that many paedophiles go out of their way to find work with children. Over the years I have seen clients who have been abused by doctors, clerygymen, teachers, social workers, foster carers and youth workers.

However, I do not believe that barring men is the solution. To safeguard children and aid all genuine male workers, there should be formalised guidelines for working with children, especially those who have already been sexually victimised. Also, there could be far more stringent questioning of applicants.

To those male workers who are concerned about what is appropriate behaviour when working with children, I would say this:

If you are sexually aroused by any physical contact with a child, you are in effect sexually violating that child, whether they are aware of it or not. Please listen to children, if they say they do not want a particular physical contact, respect this.

If a child invites inappropriate physical contact, often as a result of previous sexual abuse, it is the responsibility of the adult worker to refuse this.

There is still comparatively litle help on offer for children who have been sexually abused. Many, as in the Jason Dabbs case, are urged to 'try to forget all about it'. I can assure you that no one ever consciously forgets that they have been abused as a child. But with specialist help, and with the amazing personal resources that all survivors of childhood abuse possess, most can learn to live with it.

Cathryn Mackenzie Davies

St Albans

MY children both seemed to hate teachers 'mothering' them (they only had female teachers). They didn't want stroking, patting and cuddling from someone they didn't necessarily like all that much. In fact, over-familiarity made individual teachers least 'popular'.

My girls seemed to like and respect most teachers, but wanted them once removed from friends and family. They are now 21 and 15 and are loving and stable girls, with close relationships outside the family.

I wonder if all teachers, female as well as male, should keep their mothering skills for their own children?

C Shaw

London SW19

MICHELE Elliott of Kidscape believes that if men are prevented from working with children then it is a 'sacrifice that has to be made'.

Quite right too. And once you've got rid of all the male teachers, youth workers, nurses, doctors, residential workers, lifeguards, nursery assisants, etc, then perhaps they'd be ready for the more traditional male 'sacrifice'.

Anyone for Bosnia, chaps?

Paul McKeever

London SW16

IN response to your article on whether men should work with children, I would like to say what it is like from the abuser's point of view.

I was abused throughout my school years, from the age of seven, by house staff, teachers, cleaners, older boys, the school doctor and matron.

I left school and found that I loved working with younger children. It was easy getting a job: you didn't have to say anything about your past, or how you would deal with naughty children. I thought that some sexual abuse was wrong, but it wasn't talked about. I abused boys into my twenties: by fantasy, using their images to fulfil my needs - a form of abuse; and by 'playfighting' in the swimming pool or while watching television with them.

I believe very strongly that all jobs where young children are involved should have a written test on how one deals with their problems, such as crying and wetting themselves. Men must be asked about their past, and police records must be made available.

Gracewell Clinic for Sex Offenders did not work for me: I soon found myself back working with children and abusing them again. I am now in prison, about to start a programme to help control my sexual urges towards children.

Helping victims is very important, but helping abusers not to abuse more children when they leave prison is also important. That must come from society - by having better policies on recruiting men into childcare, and by pushing the Government to provide help and advice to both abused and abuser, 24 hours a day if necessary.

Name and address withheld

(Photograph omitted)

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